Three Wines from Kiona

May 27, 2011

Hello friends. Today’s offering involves a little wine-trade geekery, and it revolves around a change in distributors.

Kiona is the original vineyard on Red Mountain (see location here), planted in 1975 by John Williams and Jim Holmes (who went on to plant Ciel du Cheval). The attached winery produces wines from estate grapes and purchased grapes from across Washington. For more on the winery’s history, I recommend reading Sean Sullivan’s Focus Report from last February.

But I want to focus on recent events. Kiona had been distributed through one of our mega-distributors here in Washington, and their wines got a little lost in the shuffle. More recently, they switched to a boutique distributor, and that switch unearthed a little treasure trove of wine, with parcels covering a broad swath of vintages (2003-2010) and varietals (probably about 15 different wines in all). I was lucky enough to taste through them, and today we’re offering the three that I consider best-of-class: those that offer the best value for their associated tariffs

2005 Kiona Vineyards Cabernet-Merlot

As you can tell by the name, Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) and Merlot (15%) form the backbone of this pan-Washington blend. The remainder is Syrah (5%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Sangiovese (2%).

It’s quite rare to see the 2005 vintage on the market any more, and this bottle actually drinks older than 05. Tasted blind, I would probably peg this as a late-’90s bottle. It’s basically at peak right now, so I wouldn’t buy this to hold for three years; I’d buy it to drink right now. And what a treat, really: a chance to taste a Cabernet-dominant wine, at peak, for this tariff? Yes please.

You can smell the age on this, as the fruit has begun to take on dried characteristics. So you get dried cherry and dried apricot notes as your core, with coriander, coffee, and cedar notes too. At 13.5% alcohol, this has good inner-mouth energy and still-vibrant flavors of cherry, stone fruit, and espresso. The oak and tannins here seem fully integrated, leaving a finishing lick of baking spice.

2010 Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc

This is the first Chenin I have tasted from the 2010 vintage, and it continues to confirm for me that ’10 is going to be a glorious vintage for white wines. The acid set in 2010 was burly, and these finished wines have a nervous, thrilling liveliness in the mouth. They’re something special.

As usual with Washington Chenin, these are old vines (the Chenin Blanc that hasn’t already been torn out tends to be the oldest vines with the greatest depth of character). In fact, this is 100% estate fruit from Kiona’s Vineyard, planted in 1976, so it’s among the oldest Chenin plantings in the state, and certainly it’s the oldest Chenin on Red Mountain.

The expressive nose has elements of melon, straw, honey, and even a little cut-grass; very summery and inviting. The palate is lively and acid-driven (just 12.5% alcohol), conveying  a mild sense of spritz to its flavors of lime and grass and honeydew. Fresh, long, and easy-drinking, this is crying out for a hot day and a cold fridge.

2004 Kiona Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Here we have a chance to taste Red Mountain history, as this comes from the oldest block on Red Mountain, planted in 1975. These grapes are prized by a number of different Washington winemakers (Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan, Billo Naravane of Rasa, Brennon Leighton of Efeste, to name a few) for raw power and depth of character.

The Kiona style is low-alc, high-acid, food-friendly, and so these wines take some time to come around. That’s why it’s such a luxury that the current release is the 2004 vintage, because it’s drinking beautifully right now, a fine expression of Red Mountain terroir.

100% Cabernet, and it smells like it, with a core of cassis fruit framed by integrated barrel notes of dark chocolate, caramel, and espresso. There is a lovely eucalyptus/minty topnote that really pushes this wine into gorgeous territory. It’s a delicious mouthful of maturing fruit (mostly blackcurrant), integrated oak (mostly espresso), and fine tannin.

First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and these should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Two Wines from The Eyrie Vineyards (Inaugural Oregon Offering)

May 23, 2011

Hello friends. Today marks another step in Full Pull’s evolution and suddenly renders all my business cards with the “Washington Wines. Exclusively.” tag obsolete.

Friends, we’re going to Oregon.

This has always seemed like a natural first expansion to me, and to many of you as well, judging by the number who have e-mailed me or asked me in person, almost from the beginning, “when are you going to offer Oregon wines?”

For years now, I have been drinking and loving wines from the Willamette Valley, and I’m itching to write about this area and its fabulous bottles. Despite the fact that the Willamette Valley is about 30 minutes closer to Seattle than the Walla Walla Valley, I think to many Seattleites, it’s psychologically farther (different state and all) and a bit lesser known.

And on a national level, Oregon wineries face many of the same challenges as their Washington brethren. They are mostly boutique-sized wineries, with little distribution, and with wines whose quality far outstrips their marketing budgets. In other words, they are ripe for the Full Pull model.

Change always terrifies to some extent, and the risk averse part of my brain tells me that this falls squarely under the “if it ain’t broke” theory of business. But that risk averse part of my brain never has any fun, and the reality is, not that much is actually changing here.

What will NOT change:
1. The overall frequency of offerings. I expect to remain at about four per week.
2. The style of offerings. I expect to treat Oregon exactly as I have treated Washington, which means that 90%+ of offerings will come from wineries that I have personally visited. To that end, I made a research/buying trip to the Willamette Valley a few weeks ago, and this first slate of Oregon offerings will all come from wineries visited during that trip.
3. The quality of the offerings. Like in Washington, I will be choosing Oregon wines that represent the finest quality available at their respective price points.

What will change: well, you’re going to see a lot more Pinot Noir, that’s for certain. One of the great things about moving into Oregon is that their wines don’t overlap very much with their northern neighbors. Washington grows very little Pinot Noir, and what we do grow is, ahem, shall we say, inconsistent in quality. Oregon’s Pinot Noir is transcendent. And similarly, I wouldn’t expect to see much (any?) Willamette Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, because in my experience, Washington’s Cabs are far superior.

The truth is: I have the scaffolding of a plan (to offer 3-4 Oregon wines per month), but the house is far from built, and much of its construction will depend on your response. If you’re unhappy with this direction, let me hear it. If you’re happy, let me hear it. We’ll just figure it out as we go, and we’ll drink a lot of fine northwest wine along the way.

Now, let’s dive into today’s offering.

Much like Full Pull’s first offering (2004 Mountain Dome Brut), I have known from the beginning what the first Oregon offering would be. For those of you who know your Oregon wine history, it could be nothing but The Eyrie Vineyards:

2009 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate

A trip through Europe in the early ’60s convinced David Lett of the singular beauty of Pinot Noir and that the grape could only reach its highest expression in difficult environments. After graduating from UC-Davis in 1963, he blazed a trail north to Oregon, where he was convinced he could find just such a clime. His day job, as a salesman for college textbooks (which he kept until 1974), had him crisscrossing the state, and he never passed up an opportunity to examine potential future vineyard sites.

In 1966, he settled on a site in the Dundee Hills (see location here, on our new Oregon vineyard map; this will develop over time just as our Washington map did), and he named it after the hawk’s nests that dotted the area. Banks wouldn’t loan David money to build a winery onsite in the vineyards, mostly because every notable wine expert at the time believed fervently that the Willamette Valley was too cold and too wet for grape-growing. So David and his wife Diana (whom he met at a book convention) instead chose for a winery an old turkey processing building in McMinnville (the cleaning of that building is one of the wonderful, legendary creation stories that you can hear on a visit to Eyrie, which I highly recommend to anyone in the area).

By 1970, The Eyrie Vineyards was producing wine, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the landscape shifted seismically. That was the year that Robert Drouhin included the 1975 Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve Pinot Noir in a blind tasting against many of Maison Joseph Drouhin’s finest Burgundies. Finishing in first place: one of Drouhin’s 1959 Pinots; and in second, two-tenths of a point behind, was The Eyrie Vineyards. That event set in motion the eventual move by Drouhin to establish an Oregonian outpost, which they did with the establishment of Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987.

In the years that followed, the wine industry in Oregon grew and flourished, although not always in directions that David Lett approved of. He was passionate about Pinot, and his vision for the grape was uncompromising. Here are some quotes, to give you a sense of the man (Note: Both quotes are from an extensive interview with Paul Gregutt at Paul’s home in 2004, and it’s important to note that this is NOT a comment on the current state of Oregon pinot. In fact, in a recent blog post, PaulG noted that David Lett “would have been thrilled” with many of the current crop of Oregon Pinots.)

“Look at the vintages that get highly touted by the critics; they’re the big vintages. We go back to the theme: big, dark, high alcohol, and then you oak it up to taste the vanilla, which is what your mom put into everything she baked when you were a kid so it tasted really good and what have you got? Coca-Cola! It’s vanilla, the international flavor. I was pouring wine next to a table of pinot noir from a warmer region, and that wine was 15.6 percent alcohol! If you want to get a kick from alcohol, go drink a martini. Pinot noir is a lighter colored wine by nature; it’s missing four of the nine pigments in all other grapes. It’s never going to be as deeply colored as any other vinifera when it’s picked at the right time. If you let it get overripe you can get dark colored wines, because you are able to extract more color. But by the time you’ve reached that point you have lost the flavor; and the only reason to grow pinot in a climate as capricious as the Willamette Valley is for the flavor. I make wines for flavor, not scores – for pleasure, not power.”

“I embrace vintage variation because I love it. It makes life exciting. I could grow pinot noir in a warmer climate; what’s the use? Every year you get the same product, you know exactly how much you’re going to get, when you are going to pick, how ripe it’s going to be… and ho hum – where’s the fun in that? There’s a movement afoot, again this application of technology, so that Oregon can be standardized and homogenized just like everything else on the bloody planet. To take out the variable of vintage. There are things I like to call terroir machines that produce a wine that’s the same every year. There are people who firmly believe that that’s a good thing to do. I’m a grape grower; I like to see what nature does.”

I mean, my goodness, you can practically feel the passion oozing off the page, can’t you? It’s to my great regret that I never had the chance to meet the man before his death in 2008, a passing that occasioned obituaries by notables such as Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson.

While the shifting sands of fashion may have temporarily abandoned Eyrie’s style, the luminaries of the wine world clearly never did. And that was probably enough succor for David Lett, who never seemed to have much use for fashion anyhow. To wit: Eyrie never had a tasting room until four years ago. They never had a promotional brochure until this year. They are still making wine in the same turkey processing plant that they were in the 1970s. And their timeless label, first established in 1970 (although not the 1970 Pinot Noir, which sported a different, Spring Wine label), has barely changed since.

In 2005, David passed the winemaking baton to his son Jason, who has a firm grasp of the house style and has continued to produce some of the most elegant, transparent, honest Pinot Noirs in the Willamette Valley. One change, I was told, is that Jason favors “a bit more new oak.” What that means, because this is Eyrie, is that the percentage of new oak has increased from 3% all the way up to 4%. Yes, I’m serious. This is a winery that would rather refurbish old barrels than buy new ones (“it costs about the same,” I was told).

This Estate Pinot Noir comes from all four estate vineyards: the original 1966 site plus the three “youngest” vineyards in the portfolio (youth, like many things with Eyrie, is relative, as these vineyards were planted in 1976, 1987, and 1988.) It’s fresh as can be, with pomegranate, raspberry, and even some red apple aromatics framed by mineral and spice. As usual with Eyrie, it’s not the fruit that’s the star on the palate. Instead, this has a core of crushed rock, surrounded by high-toned, mountain fruit. Well-structured, with plenty of juicy acid and citrus-tea tannins, this has the stuffing to age for years.

Eyrie is one of those wineries where reviews tend to come out after the wines are sold out. No reviews of the 2009 vintage yet, but the 2008 received 93pts from Josh Raynolds in Tanzer’s IWC and 92pts from Jay Miller in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

2009 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris Estate

Pinot Gris is the other mainstay at Eyrie, and in fact represents half of their total production. David Lett was the first producer in the United States to release a Pinot Gris (in 1970), and it is natural all the way. The Gris (which comes from all four estate vineyards) goes through spontaneous malolactic conversion (the right bacteria are literally growing in the walls of the winery) and sits on its lees for six to ten months before bottling.

It is comparable to the finest Alsatian versions in every measure except price (this costs a fraction of a Grand Cru from Alsace). Dry, full, and ageworthy on a par with Eyrie’s Pinot Noir, this brings flavors of fresh pear and a truly viscous, palate-coating texture. The aromatics have a lovely, minty topnote above the traditional apply Gris notes. It’s salmon season in the Pacific Northwest, and this is about as fine a pairing as I can think of.

Again, a quick run-through of reviews from the previous (2007) vintage: 91pts Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast, 90pts Raynolds, 90pts Miller.

First come first served up to 18 bottles of Gris and 12 bottles of Noir, and these should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

Two Wines from Covington Cellars

May 22, 2011

Hello friends. Covington Cellars is a Woodinville producer that has traditionally flown a bit under the radar. David and Cindy Lawson built a strong winery-event side to their business, which has allowed them to sell a large portion of their production directly through the tasting room (and has made their wines relative rarities on retail shelves).

In the past year or two, the wines have taken a notable step up in quality and consistency, and a recent tasting of the portfolio revealed a strong lineup and a burgeoning house style. Since 2007, the winemaking team at Covington has included Morgan Lee. Hired after a stint at Columbia Crest, he was involved in the 2007 and 2008 vintages and took on lead winemaking duties in 2009. We have offered Morgan’s Two Vintners wines in the past (Two Vintners is a companion brand to Covington), and they were well-received. Today is our inaugural offering for the Covington label:

2008 Covington Cellars Sangiovese

Sangiovese has been an area of focus for Covington from the beginning, and while the portfolio has swelled (and, more recently, shrunk), Sangio has remained a point of emphasis. They bottle a varietal Sangiovese, and they produce several Sangiovese blends. Because they were on the Sangio-train early, they have access to some of the older vines and better vineyards in the state.

This 2008 comes predominantly from two different blocks at Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla, and it is rounded out with fruit from Kiona and Kestrel Vineyards. The goal here is varietal expression, so the new oak is dialed way down (20%), and the aromas (black licorice, barnyard) are lovely and expressive.

What I really love about this wine is that it would appeal to an Italian palate. It’s a populace that craves acidity (think tomatoes) and bitterness (think Campari), and this wine has both. Tart, juicy, and earthy, this one is not for the kids.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITTHELD]. Rating: + (Good).”

2007 Covington Cellars “Starr” Seven Hills Vnyd (Syrah-Sangio)

Covington has experimented with a number of Sangiovese blends over the years, and one that has stuck is Starr, a Syrah-Sangiovese mix. Non-traditional to say the least. I know Charles Smith blends the two varietals for his Guido, but I can’t think of any others. Guido is about 80/20 Sangiovese/Syrah, while Starr is nearly the reverse (78% Syrah/22% Sangiovese), all from Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, and at a production level of just 182 cases.

It’s a modern blend, and it’s a modern style. Much riper than the 2008 Sangiovese (perhaps in part due to 2007 being a warmer vintage), this has a luscious nose of char, mocha, vanilla, and blackberry (there is an exotic side to the smokey char notes here, likely from the fact that all the oak here is Hungarian, 50% new). The blend works here because it has everything we love about the riper side of Washington Syrah (deep, rich fruit; supple texture), but with a kick of verve and energy from the Sangiovese. The Sangio doesn’t really impact the flavor here so much as the texture and mouthfeel, and it’s a positive addition to be sure.

Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($29); [REVIEW TEXT WITTHELD]. Rating: * (Excellent).”

First come first served up to 12 bottles of each, and the wines should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

Three New Releases from McKinley Springs

May 20, 2011

Hello friends. New vintages of serious list favorites today: the latest round of releases from McKinley Springs Vineyard.

McKinley Springs is a list favorite because they provide consistently exceptional value. Growers first, they sell 99% of the fruit from their estate vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills. Their winemaking operation is a relatively small part of the business and therefore has relatively low responsibility as a profit center. Prices stay low, and the wines fly off the shelf.

I had to look back, because my sense when I saw these new releases was that McKinley Springs is absolutely hauling through vintages. And that intuition was confirmed: this is the third vintage of Bombing Range Red we have offered in less than one year, and we have offered three vintages of Syrah in 15 months. Clearly the brand has been established as a value leader, and these wines are sought after.

2008 McKinley Springs Bombing Range Red

McKinley Springs’ entry-level table wine, this is the bottle with the whimsical label on the outside and the serious juice on the inside. For those of you who tried the 2006 and 2007 vintages, this 2008 is more of a return to the 2006; a bit less overt, a bit more complex than the ripe-and-ready 2007.

This has pretty much become a Cab (40%)-Syrah (52%) blend at this point, rounded out with 4% each Malbec and Petit Verdot. It sees only neutral barrels and is released a bit younger than the rest of the red portfolio. The emphasis is on freshness and fruit character, and that’s exactly what we have here. A big nose of black cherry and Dr. Pepper leads into a succulent palate of espresso, cassis, and citrus peel. The Cabernet seems more dominant here, despite being a smaller portion of the blend.

2007 McKinley Springs Syrah

I have a soft spot for McKinley Springs Syrah, because we used it as our blind bottle when we had our booth at Taste Washington 2010. I chose it in large part because it is always an honest expression of Washington Syrah (or, to be more precise, Horse Heaven Hills Syrah).

Aged in just 25% new oak, about half of this comes from the “Espresso Block” of the vineyard, and it shows both in the dark-roast coffee nose and on the palate. Mixed with deep, intense notes of blue fruit and lifted by floral topnotes from a 3.5% Viognier coferment, this is a lovely, well-priced bottle of Washington Syrah.

No professional reviews yet for this one, although the 2006 vintage received 90pts from Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator.

2006 McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2006 Cabernet, on the other hand, has been reviewed by a few sources:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($22); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 88pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18+/20pts.”

I won’t add much to the reviews above, except to say that this is another transparent expression of Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet, with a good balance of the fruit, herb, and earth notes that make Cabernet so compelling. A chunk of this wine comes from the oldest Cabernet block at McKinley Springs, planted in 1980, and that depth of character shines through.

First come first served up to 24 bottles of each. The wines should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Mark Ryan Dead Horse

May 18, 2011

Hello friends. One of the best recent additions to Paul Gregutt’s always-excellent blog is his Top 10 NW Wines of the Month. The Top 10 lists include snapshot reviews and no scores. One of my favorite activities is to parse the list each month and try to figure out the eventual score that each wine will receive when the full review is released in Wine Enthusiast. Is this a healthy use of my time? Well, I admit it’s not as healthy as, say, exercise, but it is significantly more fun.

More than anything, PaulG’s Top 10 lists impact my offering calendar. I had originally planned this Dead Horse offering for mid-summer, having offered other Mark Ryan wines less than a month ago (note: I will include a reorder link for the Wild Eyed Syrah at the bottom of this offering). But now, with a strong review and massive score looming, the level of urgency has been upped considerably.

Before we play the guessing game, a quick word on scores generally. Many of us in the trade like to engage in serious handwringing about scores. That is, right until we need our hands free to tape up that latest 94pt shelf-talker. It seems disingenuous to me to gripe about the weight of scores in consumer buying decisions while at the same using them to sell wine. My own take: scores are a proxy. The wine world is incomparably large and complicated, and so we all use a variety of proxies to make purchasing decisions, because there’s just no way to taste everything. A pretty label is a proxy. Full Pull offerings are proxies. And scores are certainly proxies. But if you find reviewers whose palates match yours (and that’s the real trick), why not use them as shortcuts. It’s not laziness; it’s pragmatism.

Now, with that mini-rant complete, let’s shamelessly play Guess That Score. Here is PaulG’s Top 10 list for April. The real trick is pegging the score for Wine #1; in this case the 2008 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m guessing, based on the text and previous vintages, that this is getting 97pts, which would put #2 (2008 Rasa Creative Impulse) at 96pts and #3 (today’s offering) at 95pts. I wouldn’t be willing to bet my life on that exact score, but I would mortgage the house on a score somewhere in the 94-96pt range: (Paul Gregutt): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD].”

Dead Horse is one of three Bordeaux blends that Mark makes from Red Mountain (Long Haul and Water Witch are the others). It’s Cabernet-dominant, at 62% of the blend, rounded out with 15% Cab Franc, 12% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec, and all of it comes from the stellar duo of Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun, the yin-yang of elegance and power in the heart of Red Mountain.

At its center sits a large core of Red Mountain minerality, all iron and earth, swaddled in barrel notes (92% new French here) of mocha and cream. The tannins here are prominent, ripe, and openly delicious. The surprise of this wine is its aromatic profile, whose prettiness and delicacy, whose lovely notes of lavender, strawberry, and raspberry bramble, belies the beast ahead.

First come first served up to 18 bottles, and the wine should arrive within a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.

Three Wines from Zero One Vintners

May 16, 2011

Hello friends. I recently had my first chance to taste through the lineup from Zero One Vintners with co-founder Thomas Vogele. It’s a lovely, focused portfolio, with just three wines, and we’re offering them all today. Wine Spectator is set to release positive reviews of all three wines on May 31, but we should have our orders in well ahead of that, so I’m not worried about quantities currently (although reorders might be a bit more challenging).

All of these wines are sourced from strong vineyards, and all of them are made in conjunction with Gordy Hill at Wahluke Wine Company. The combination of fine raw materials and Gordy’s winemaking talent is on display here, and all at very reasonable tariffs:

2008 Zero One Vintners “Sauce” (Merlot Blend)

The newest addition to the lineup, this has an eye-catching label and is priced at a level where one bottle can go into the braising pot and another into your glasses without a second thought. From a variety of Milbrandt-farmed sites, mostly on the Wahluke Slope, this is a Merlot-dominant blend (80%), rounded out with Cabernet Franc (10%), Syrah (6%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%). Expressive aromas of cherry, plum, and baking chocolate give way to a vibrant, balanced palate, with plenty of pure Merlot cherry fruit, and some leafy complexities in the middle that elevate this above the typical $10 bottle. Soft, approachable, and low-alc (13.8%), this is almost too easy to glug.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($13); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 88pts.”

2009 Zero One Vintners Riesling “Golden Delicious”

There is semi-forgotten old-vine Riesling scattered throughout the state, and one of those sites is Gamache Vineyard. Gamache is in the same general neck of the woods as Sagemoor, where the Columbia River dips south from White Bluffs down to the Tri-Cities. I think this area is forgotten sometimes because it has never received sub-appellation status and is still part of the greater Columbia Valley AVA. But the Riesling vines here have grown dark and deep, planted in 1983, and the grapes are in very capable hands with Gordy Hill, who truly seems a Riesling savant.

There is enough Gamache fruit here (90%) that this could be labeled single-vineyard (it’s not), and the remainder comes from Ancient Lakes Vineyard, just north of Evergreen. At 12.5% alcohol and 1.5% residual sugar, this presents itself in the mouth as just off-dry. The aromatics are compelling here: salt air, lime, and green apple. There’s a real salty-sweet intensity to the flavors here, and a tactile sensation to the mouthfeel. It’s a fairly irresistible bottle of Riesling.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($16); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2008 Zero One Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon “Wild Sky”

This is the third vintage of Wild Sky, named after the Wild Sky Wilderness in central Washington. The vineyard selection here is again impeccable, with the backbone coming from two fine Walla Walla Valley sites: Spofford Station and Blue Mountain. Blue Mountain, you may remember, is the old Neuffer Estate Vineyard from Nicholas Cole Cellars, now owned by Corliss Estates. It’s planted close to Leonetti’s Loess Vineyard and is producing remarkable Cabernet. I know Spofford Station more for its Syrahs (Jamie Brown of Waters used to make an exceptionally funky Spofford Station Syrah for JLC), but it seems to produce Cabernets with earthy, soiley complexities as well.

This is new-world Cabernet all the way, ripe and ready to drink right now, in all its glorious hedonism. A bottle that’s not shy on alcohol (15.5%) or oak, this begins with a nose of ripe cherry, vanilla, and whiskey barrel. Richness is the watchword here; there are dried cherry notes, and this even ventures into stone fruit territory, with peaches and apricots making an appearance. Tannins are supple, fine-grained, and espresso-flavored, and the finish hangs on for some time.

Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

First come first served up to 12 bottles of each, and the wines should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping.

2008 Buried Cane Merlot

May 14, 2011

Hello friends. It’s an exciting day in the Pacific Northwest, our inaugural Cascadia derby day in MLS. But before I run off to throw back a few non-wine beverages before supporting our Sounders in their match against the Timbers, I’m going to hit the send button on this one. A recent price drop (from $15 down to $7) has taken this from the solid-everyday-Merlot category to screaming deal territory.

Seven dollars? Seriously? Here is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released masterpiece, Things I Can Do With a Good Seven Dollar Bottle of Wine:

– drink one;
– drink another;
– gift to friends;
– gift to frenemies;
– replacement for water in bathtub (for that lasting Merlot smell and wonderful red-wine sheen)
– pour three bottles into a pot, light them on fire, and proceed to make Daniel Boulud’s Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine (seriously, this recipe is killer)
– gather friends and pretend that you just won a sports championship by pouring open bottles over each other’s heads while weeping with joy
– practice opening bottles without a corkscrew, like this guy

All kidding aside, there is great joy to be had in a useful $7 bottle of red wine, and this is useful indeed.

Buried Cane is a second label for Cadaretta Winery, a newer Walla Walla entrant rapidly gaining attention for their vineyard plantings and the fine wines they’re producing out of the Artifex custom crush facility, where they’re part owners. Certainly, if the Middleton family (owners of Cadaretta and Buried Cane) and winemaker Brian Rudin can continue producing this quality at this price point, they can begin to entertain ambitions of competing with Columbia Crest and Ste Michelle as ambassadors of well-priced Washington juice.

What I love about this wine is that it’s kind of old school. This is like getting into a time machine and tasting what Washington Merlot looked like in the mid-’90s. From cooler sites (Florence & Virginia Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, Preston Vineyard in the Columbia Valley), this finished out at just 13.3% alcohol, but it tastes plenty ripe at that level. There’s nothing green or harsh about this. There’s also very little oak influence (all French, but just 30% new), allowing the fresh fruit vibrancy to pulsate.

The vast majority of Merlot at this price point is an express ticket to the old gag reflex, usually from a combination of jammy fruit (and even some residual sugar occasionally) and American oak pellets. This bottling couldn’t be further from that. It displays good varietal character, with Merlot’s appealing combination of cherry and plum, chocolate and coffee. It’s soft and juicy, with a strong core of pie-cherry fruit, but it also has some leafy, earthy subtleties that are unheard of at this tariff.

So why the price drop, you ask? I’m reading tea leaves here (or maybe grape musts), but Buried Cane just introduced a label change, and I suspect they’re looking to move these old labels off the shelves to avoid brand confusion. It certainly has nothing to do with the quality, which is plenty strong enough for a $15 tag.

I’m going to open up the allocations here, as this is another strong contender for summer parties or weddings. It’s familiar enough to be a crowd pleaser, but complex enough to turn the heads of jaded wedding-wine consumers. First come first served up to 60 bottles, and the wine should arrive within the next few weeks, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.